I wrote this essay -- about writing -- while on the way to teach a class. There I sat, on the side of the road in the dark, furiously jotting notes so I wouldn't forget what I wanted to say.
A full moon illuminated the night, shining over fallow fields and dancing across the pond like a thousand fireflies. It beckoned me to sit outside on the prairie, cuddle up next to my lover, or listen to a favorite melody of songs. But most of all it whispered to me in the night -- "Come with me and listen to my story. Let me teach you to love."
The winter moon rose high in the sky, full and bright against an ebony backdrop. It took determination to attend the night class for which I was the instructor instead of pulling the car over to the side of the road to write. I realize many people have recorded the moon's mysticism long before I picked up a pen, but no matter in what country my characters reside, no matter in what century they live, it remains the one constant. That glorious globe of luminous light follows an eternal path across the starlit sky while it creates an exotic aura that causes my characters to fall in love, create songs and poetry, or sit in silent companionship.
What enchantment does that night orb hold that makes me dream of lovers, or write of romance and intrigue? After all, in rather non-romantic terms, the moon is merely a chunk of rock. It doesn't even produce its own light, but simply reflects the sun's rays. “Sunlight glistened off his skin, reminding her of a golden god.” And yet, in the dark of night exotic thoughts converge. “Moonlight caressed his torso, conjuring images of erotic, pagan gods of love.”
Even though the moon consists only of reflected light, it calls forth a completely different set of verbs. “Moonbeams danced across the rippling water, beckoning her to join them and be soothed by their magic.” Moonlight caresses while the sun scorches. “Blistering sunlight charred the barren earth, momentarily blinding her as she exited the mine.”
Moonbeams, moon glow; a hunter's moon, a harvest moon; phases of the moon, once in a blue moon. I can promise my heroine the moon, think my hero magnificent enough to rope the moon. Witch doctors and sorcerers may chant incantations to the moon while singers swear ". . .by the moon and stars in the sky, I'll be there." (John Michael Montgomery)
At times when I sit at the computer and the words won't come, or when my characters rebel against my direction, I want to howl at the moon. It doesn't matter if it is a full moon, a sliver of a moon or no moon at all. My feelings can't be changed by a crescent moon, or even when clouds obscure the moon.
There may be a man in the moon, but he can't compare to my hero when the moonlight glitters off his golden locks or reflects the passion in his eyes. “His shadow fell across her, and when she glanced up, the moon created a halo around him like that of angels she dreamed of in her childhood. But she was a child no longer, and the magnificent man caressed by moonlight wore an expression that would never be termed angelic.”
Though steadfast in the night sky, the moon is an inconsistent character in my novels -- sometimes romantic, sometimes teasing. “Like a candelabrum in a breeze, the moonlight flickered and played against the shadows to tantalize our senses.” Every once in awhile, as it waxes and wanes, it takes on yet another demeanor as a symbol of intrigue. “Clouds obscured the moon and provided her the darkness she needed, for no one must recognize her or guess her destination.”
Most often my characters consider the moon a romantic orb of light. However, if they are betrayed, it metamorphasizes into a reflection of their disappointments and failures. “Cold and solitary in the inky night, the moon provided little comfort now that she no longer lay in his arms.”
The greatest writers in history have faithfully administered to the moon's ego, singing its praises and inconsistencies with eloquent words. It's impossible to forget the majesty of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:
Romeo: Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear,
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops --
Juliet: O! swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable. (I.ii.107)
Least we forget the tragedy the moon has witnessed, Alfred Noyes reminds us in The Highwayman:
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding --
Riding -- riding --
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door. (I, stanza 1)
[He offers eternal love and promises to return for her later]:
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way. (I. 5.)
It makes little difference that tragedy ended both these love affairs. The moon must have its say, reminding us it oversees both the love and laughter in our lives, and the tragic termination of our most tender feelings.
So beware! No matter the course of your writing -- romance or tragedy, mystery or myth -- the moon will exert its primal pull. Without conscious thought, you will find yourself incorporating that masterful overseer of human emotions into your manuscript. I encourage you to take heart.
You are not alone when you disguise the moon behind a veil of clouds or see its face shadowed by trees. Don't be concerned as you proclaim your characters moonstruck, moonblind, moon-eyed, or moonish; or when they exclaim over a moonflower, moonscape, moonseeds, moonstones, or a moon shell. Continue to scatter your writing with moon dust and moonbeams; enjoy each and every moonrise or moonset. You are in very good company, for in the sixteenth edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, there are over 130 references to this chunk of rock I affectionately call A Writer's Moon.
Montgomery, John Michael. Kickin' It Up. Atlantic Recording Company, 82559-4, 1994.
Noyes, Alfred. "The Highwayman." Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Ed. Justin Kaplan. Boston:
Little, Brown and Company, 1992. 643.
Shakespeare, William. "Romeo and Juliet." Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Ed. Justin Kaplan.
Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1992. 175.